Supergirl #17 came out this week, the penultimate chapter of H'El on Earth, an arc I will be happy is coming to an end. From the beginning, the deck was stacked against Supergirl in this story. In the span of a couple of issues all the characterization that has been slowly building in her main book was demolished.
In Supergirl, Kara was on the journy, moving from a grieving character to one who was dealing with her tragedy and realizing she needed to move forward on our world. She was a character very reticent to let anyone in ... to trust anyone, but one with a solid core of being a good person. She wanted to help and would never harm anyone. yes, it was decompressed story-telling but this Supergirl was someone I was rooting for, someone I was hoping was going to work her way through her stages of grief and emerge a young hero.
In H'El on Earth, all of that went away. She immediately trusted H'El. She jumped in with both feet in believing his story. She immediately fell in love with him. And she began lashing out at everyone around her ... first calling Earth a ball of sweat and mud and then bludgeoning Superboy within an inch of his life.
This has not been a good story arc for Supergirl. And I find that in her own title, writer Mike Johnson is trying to do the best he can with this editorial edict of Supergirl being a patsy and a villain. He has her saying things that jibe better with his characterization of her. And so we have this issue where finally ... finally ... she realizes the truth, that H'El has been duping her. Of course, she has to be told it by Wonder Woman, never getting to that conclusion herself. It makes these earlier issues of H'El that much more preposterous. Why didn't someone tell her this a while ago?
I will once again pass some sympathy onto Mike Johnson who probably didn't want this to happen to Kara but was forced their by 'the powers that be' ... I am looking at you Dan Didio and Eddie Berganza ... people who have never seemed to understand the character of Supergirl and what should be done with her. And kudos to Johnson for at least trying to portray Kara in a sympathetic way here and in his other issues of H'El.
I have no complaints about the art though. Mahmud Asrar continues to amaze on this book and this issue, in particular, is fantastic. His fight sequences and his Wonder Woman are very easy on the eyes and make this issue a visual treat, one with lots of splash pages.
Enough preamble. On to the review.
The issue opens with Wonder Woman and Supergirl in a standoff. And, as usual, Supergirl is ready to fight and defend H'El's star chamber, a machine which is straining the time-space continuum of our solar system.
You can read Johnson's thought on Supergirl in Wonder Woman's words. She is a strong brave woman, someone fighting through tragedy. But this defense of H'El and his plans is idiotic. No more sympathy.
Funny, that is just how I have been feeling about this Supergirl up to know. The fact that she has maintained some sense of perspective, hasn't gone mad or wallowed in rage, despite the sadness around her has been remarkable. That has been one of the strengths of this book, that Kara has been something of a hero despite the recent events of her life.
But this being H'El on Earth, that stuff isn't happening. Maybe she and Diana could be allies but not in this story.
Even this panel is an interesting pattern because it is mirrored by one of H'El punching Superman in the same way. There is no doubt ... Supergirl is a villain here.
Despite all this, Superman still seems to have some faith and familial love and loyalty to Supergirl. He is angry that H'El is using her for his schemes and defends her.
I haven't always seen Superman be so demonstrative in his love for his cousin. In fact, in some places he has outright belittled her. But again, I wonder if Johnson is trying his best to patch things up in this book.
As I mentioned before, I think Asrar is phenomenal in this issue. The fight scenes show nice 'bullets and heat vision' action and his Diana is just spectacular.
And, despite her power, Supergirl isn't as prolific a warrior as Diana. I loved this part of the fight where Diana simply hog-ties Supergirl with the magic lasso. I love the expressions here ... one of surprise on Kara and of superiority on Wonder Woman. Great stuff.
Now I never have a super-solid understanding of the powers of the lasso. Here Wonder Woman says the truth of the situation, that H'El is going to blow up the sun, will be revealed by the lasso. Is that true? Does the lasso work that way?
Supergirl has one last trick up her sleeve, the corona wave sunburst, which blasts her free of the rope but drains her of her last energy.
While Wonder Woman is blasted away it is temporary. And the drained Kara can't escape.
Can I say that I have come to accept this power! I didn't think I would like it but if used in this way as a last ditch effort which drains Supergirl, I think it is a neat little maneuver. I didn't think I would like it at all. I guess even an old fan can accept new tricks.
And here is my favorite moment of the book.
With everything that has happened, it would be perfectly reasonable for Diana to just deck Kara. Instead, Wonder Woman takes the high road. Realizing that Supergirl is drained and not a threat, Diana asks her if she is okay and says the time for fighting is over. This is a teachable moment for Supergirl. Not conflict has to end with punches.
And in this brief moment of zen, Wonder Woman ... gasp ... tells Supergirl that the star chamber will destroy Earth and the solar system. And, Supergirl ... double gasp ... actually sees that she is telling the truth.
Hmmm ... maybe that info could have been relayed earlier?
The charade now revealed, Supergirl finally shuns H'El (now continuously sporting the backwards S which has been intermittent). No more 'Beloved', no more 'it was alllll yoooouuuu H'El' gushing, no more 'this is the only thing that has gone right' defiance. She is now angry and against him.
Well, I should be happy about this and I am ... I guess. Except, now Supergirl is a bit petulant, a bit too easily swayed, a bit too hot and cold. She is all in for H'El and then one minute later she is all against him. It just further ingrains an air of immaturity in her, a feeling that she doesn't have a strong core of her own.
I know, I can't have it both ways and I am thrilled she isn't a villain anymore.
But this turnabout does not correct the disservice done to the character in this arc.
We have one issue to wrap this up. Hopefully in those 20 pages we learn H'El's true origins, understand what it means that the Oracle is standing next to Earth, have H'El be defeated, and have the super-family come together a bit. Does anyone think that all those things can happen in a satisfactory way? Me either.
So in this issue, we have tremendous art. We have Supergirl seeing the errors of her ways. And we have subtle dialogue trying to salvage the characterization of Kara that has come before this. We have a coloring error by Dave McCaig who puts Superman's red shorts back on, on a splash page no less. (It is a rare miss for McCaig who otherwise is stellar with nuanced colors around things like the sunburst, etc.)
But in the end, it is an issue were a deluded Supergirl is trying to stop Wonder Woman from saving the world. And I have had enough of Supergirl being the duped villain.